What is Kefir?
Whether you say it kee-fur, keff-er or kuh-fear (which is the correct pronunciation) you have probably heard some variation of this name and you may have wondered what in the world is kefir? It is basically a probiotic filled drinkable yogurt that has man healthy benefits, particularly for your gut.
I have been making (and eating) my own kefir for over a year and a half. I first heard of it while reading a blog post. Then I went on a grocery store tour with my kids and had a chance to try the store bought kefir.
After learning about the health benefits of the probiotics found in kefir, I decided that I wanted in on the action. I spoke to another preschool mom about my desire to get my own culture to make kefir. She happened to be getting one from her mother in the coming weeks and offered to share it.
I was thrilled months later when she texted me that the culture was big enough to divide so that I could have my own starter. She handed me the culture in a mason jar filled with milk. Then I got it home and started frantically researching what I was supposed to do with it.
Now I'm providing that same service to others who might want to know more about it, have been offered a starter, or have one and have no clue what to do with it.
Why Drink Kefir?
Kefir is a yogurt-like food that is widely used as a probiotic and for overall digestive health. As a person who has had issues with digestion my whole life, this is definitely the aspect of kefir that intrigued me the most. Kefir has a bit of a tangy or sour taste and can also be used as a substitute for buttermilk, sour cream, or even milk in many recipes. I mostly use kefir to make smoothies each morning but I have also used it successfully when baking muffins, making pancakes, cakes, or other recipes that call for the above mentioned ingredients.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but drinking kefir on a regular basis has really helped me with manage my irritable bowel syndrome without having to use anything else. I always like to go the natural route if I can and with this I haven't been disappointed.
How to Make Kefir
I took pictures of the whole process to give a visual for what the kefir will look like from start to finish. Please excuse some of the shadows in
the photos. I was taking the shots on a very cloudy, stormy day and it was very tricky to get the pictures without shadow!
First you will begin with a starter. I was given a kefir grain (it looks a bit like firm cottage cheese). You can buy starter kits online or just ask around to see if anyone you know makes kefir. Over time, the grain grows larger and must be divided into smaller portions, so often people who make it are looking for ways to use up the extra grain. The starter should be kept in milk (or your liquid of choice) at all times. Also, I always use plastic when making kefir and avoid metal (with the exception of stainless steel) because I have heard that using metal can affect it and I would rather stay on the safe side. So, I store the grain in a plastic container, with a lid, in my fridge when I'm not using it.
When you are ready to make kefir you will place your starter grain in a glass or plastic bowl. I like to use my glass measuring bowl for the visibility and measuring marks. As a general rule, I try to use about one teaspoon of the grain with 4 cups of milk. The goal is to find a ratio that will take about 24 hours to change the milk into kefir. During the warmer months, it takes less time and I usually scale back on the amount of grain to liquid. You can use any percentage of milk fat that you like and you can also experiment with different types of milk. I generally use 1% milk that I buy from my local grocery store or Costco.
After you put the strain into the bowl (or mason jar if making less) you are ready to pour in your milk of choice. Again, I try to stay close to the 1 teaspon of kefir grain to 4 cups of milk. I have found that if I add more of the grain, it makes the kefir very sour. Since it really is a matter of preference, you are welcome to experiment and find the ratio that works best for you. Since I use a lot of my kefir to make smoothies, we like to keep the taste fairly mild.
After that, it's just a matter of covering your milk and culture with plastic wrap. Set it aside in a dark place (at room temperature) and then you wait for the magic to happen. The entire process should take about 24 hours. I put my mixture out in the morning during breakfast time and then I check it the next day around the same time. It's a time when I am in the kitchen anyway, so it's easy to remember to check on it.
The first few times it is really quite thrilling to see the transformation that has taken place! In the picture on the left, you will see how the grains are right at the top of the bowl to the left. You will spoon (or strain) the grain clump out. As I mentioned above, you can expect it to grow larger over time. When it gets substantially bigger, I just break it in half and start another culture. I have tried mixing it in to smoothies, but it is a little too harsh for my digestive system. Since my family likes a more mild taste, at this point I cover the kefir with the plastic wrap again and let it sit out to ferment a second time for 8 hours. If you let it sit out longer than that, you will see that the fat and liquid will separate. No worries! Just mix everything back together and it will be fine to use. It may taste a bit more tangy, but it is still ok to use.
Always give it a good stir to mix everything together and then you can store it in the fridge to use however you wish! I use the majority of my kefir in its raw state to make smoothies. I do sometimes use it in my other cooking as well when I don't have buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream. I have had very good results using it as a substitute for each of those things. I like to use it most in the raw state simply because it has the most health benefits in that form.
If you find that you need a break from making kefir, or if you are going out of town for a bit, just stick your starter (covered in milk) in your fridge. The cold temperatures significantly slow down the process of converting the milk. When you are ready to use it again, just pull it out and start the process again. When I first started I would dump out the milk that it sat in, but now I just pour it into the bowl with the fresh milk. I have found that it helps kick start the process.
Have you made kefir before? What did you think of it? Do you have more questions or comments about your experience with making and using kefir? Please share your questions and comments below! Post what you make on Instagram and tag #peachtreedr so I can see it!